We have all seen those articles telling us to get more omega-3 fatty acids in our diet. Many studies point to these special fatty acids as a means to prevent heart disease. These essential fatty acids might be harder to come by in the coming years.
The primary source of most people’s omega-3 fatty acids comes from seafood. However, recent years have seen a cut in the amount of wild fish caught - likely due to over-fishing and our attempts to fix the problem. Fish farms can produce fish but require fish oil supplementation to achieve even half of the amount of omega-3s than wild fish have. This predicament has led some researchers to investigate alternate sources of omega-3s beyond just wild fish.
A team from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland decided to look into whether chicken meat and eggs enriched in omega-3s from algae might be able to substitute for wild fish. Certain plants can produce the omega-3 ALA, but not the critical DHA and EPA. On the other hand, Algae has all three, if at lower amounts than in wild fish. Consuming algae may not be everyone’s preference; the team enriched the chickens’ diet with algae. The resulting meat and eggs would be enriched with all three critical omega-3s and may prove to be a good substitute for wild fish.
To test whether chicken meat and eggs enriched in algae omega-3s, they gathered a cohort of 161 volunteers. They split them into four groups; a group that would eat non-enriched eggs and chicken meat, a group that would eat enriched chicken meat, a group that would eat enriched chicken eggs, and finally, a group that would eat both enriched chicken meat and eggs.
After six months, each volunteer was brought back into the study and had their omega-3s examined. In the groups that ate enriched chicken meat and eggs, there was an apparent increase in omega-3 levels. This was found to be due to an increase in DHA levels primarily. As measured by heart rate and blood pressure, heart health also seemed to improve in the enriched chicken groups mildly.
This study found that chicken meat and eggs enriched in algae omega-3s could substitute for wild fish omega-3s. The team notes that the omega-3 content of the enriched foods in this study was much less than wild fish, but the enriched food was enriched in DHA, and EPA compensates for the loss. The actual benefit of omega-3 supplementation is contested, as recent studies have shown that there may be no overall benefit to health, but several studies still support omega-3 supplementation. Either way, humans can’t produce omega-3s ourselves, so any new source of them is a good source.
The study concludes, “improved omega-3-PUFA levels in humans is likely to lead to substantial human health benefits, including protection from heart attacks, strokes, dementia, and depression. Omega-3-PUFA enriched chicken-meat and eggs offers consumers attractive additional alternatives to eating oily fish.”